Tuesday, November 13, 2012


Leonard Norman Cohen was born on September 21, 1934. He is a Canadian singer-songwriter, musician, poet, and novelist. His work often explores religion, isolation, sexuality, and interpersonal relationships. He is an inductee of the American Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the Canadian Music Hall of Fame, and the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame. He has also received the Order of Canada. His first studio album was 1967’s SONGS OF LEONARD COHEN. I know him best for ‘Hallelujah’ which was first recorded on 1984’s VARIOUS POSITIONS. He is also known for such songs as ‘Suzanne’, ‘First We take Manhattan’, ‘Bird on a Wire’, and ‘Famous Blue Raincoat’. My cousin Trish is a huge fan of Leonard and shares: “I experience his music as a writer, artist, and mostly as a fellow spiritual being. Leonard Cohen writes with a precision that few writers are capable of, and a raw vulnerable humanity that we all share. One of the greatest joys of listening to Leonard’s music is his witty, self-effacing sense of humour that we can all relate to.” Leonard was ordained a Buddhist monk in 1996, but is still religiously Jewish. OLD IDEAS (2012, Columbia Records) is his twelfth studio album. It is the highest charting album of his ever, hitting Number One in Canada, Norway, Spain, and many other countries. It also did well in the U.S. In addition, it was a nominee for the 2012 Polaris Music Prize.

‘Going Home’ is one of four songs co-written with Patrick Leonard. It is a spoken word piece with slight keyboard accompaniment and female choral vocals. It seems written from the viewpoint of a Higher Power: “I love to speak with Leonard/He’s a sportsman and a shepherd/He’s a lazy bastard/Living in a suit/But he does say what I tell him/Even though it isn’t welcome.” The song moves on with that Higher Power reflecting on what Cohen’s true desire is: “He wants to write a love song/An anthem of forgiving/A manual for living with defeat/A cry above the suffering/A sacrifice recovering/But that isn’t what I need him to complete.” ‘Amen’ is a pretty song that runs over seven minutes and utilizes banjo, violin, guitar, and a horn. It has Cohen speaking to God: “Tell me again/When the victims are singing/And the Laws of Remorse are restored/Tell me again/That You know what I’m thinking/But vengeance belongs to the Lord/Tell me again.” In the song, the singer admits there is a tendency to use alcohol to mask pain and sorrow: “Tell me again/When the filth of the butcher/Is washed in the blood of the Lamb…Tell me again when I’m clean and I’m sober.”

‘Show me the Place’ has Cohen half-talking and half-singing, not unusual for him. The song contains these words that will resonate with evangelicals: “Show me the place/Help me roll away the stone/Show me the place/I can’t move this alone/Show me the place/Where the Word became a man/Show me the place/Where the suffering began.” Leonard’s live band joins him on ‘Darkness’. This mid-tempo number has cool organ flourishes throughout. The lyrics seem to speak of a man falling for a woman who turned out to be no good for him: “I should have seen it coming/It was right behind your eyes/You were young and it was summer/I just had to take a dive/Winning you was easy/But darkness was the prize…I used to love the rainbow/I used to love the view/I loved the early morning/I’d pretend that it was new/But I caught the darkness baby/And I got it worse than you/I caught the darkness.”

A shaker is used consistently on the soft track ‘Anyhow’. It tells of a man desperately wanting to reconcile with his true love interest: “I used up all my chances/And you’ll never take me back/But there ain’t no harm in asking/Could you cut me one more slack?/I’m naked and I’m filthy/And there’s sweat upon my brow/And both of us are guilty/Anyhow/Have mercy on me baby/After all, I did confess/Even though you have to hate me/Could you hate me less?” ‘Crazy to Love You’, co-written with Anjani Thomas, features nice guitar strumming. It speaks of how we sometimes go too far to try and make a love relationship work: “Had to go crazy to love you/Had to let everything fall/Had to be people I hated/Had to be no one at all.”

‘Come Healing’ starts with a soothing female vocal. It is a gem, that could almost be a modern day worship song lyrically: “The splinters that you carry/The cross you left behind/Come healing of the body/Come healing of the mind/And let the heavens hear it/The penitential hymn/Come healing of the spirit/Come healing of the limb.” ‘Banjo’ is a curious story song: “There’s something that I’m watching/Means a lot to me/It’s a broken banjo bobbing/On the dark, infested sea/Don’t know how it got there/Maybe taken by the wave/Off of someone’s shoulder/Or out of someone’s grave.”

‘Lullaby’ is another slow song and uses harmonica. It is more mysterious than the typical song you’d sing your child to sleep with: “If your heart is torn/I don’t wonder why/If the night is long/Here’s my lullaby(2X)/Well the mouse ate the crumb/Then the cat ate the crust/Now they’ve fallen in love/They’re talking in tongues.” ‘Different Sides’ has a playful sound to it. The song speaks of our unfortunate tendency to let things divide us as people: “We find ourselves on different sides/Of a line nobody drew/Though it all may be one in the higher eye/Down here where we live it is two…Both of us say there are laws to obey/Yeah, but frankly I don’t like your tone/You want to change the way I make love/I want to leave it alone.”

Publications such as Rolling Stone and The Guardian have praised OLD IDEAS. I believe this album will appeal to fans of the latter works of Bob Dylan and Johnny Cash. Those who appreciate the deep baritone vocals of George Beverly Shea will like Leonard’s voice. Cohen’s vocals are balanced with the sweet female vocals of Shannon Robinson, Dana Glover, Jennifer Warnes, and the Webb Sisters. This project is for the music lover who highly values poetry and artistry. It glows with a certain maturity that only true life experience can bring. The instrumentation is appropriately sparse and is well placed. These are not, for the most part, songs that you can sing along with, but they are songs that will appeal to your thoughts and emotions. I imagine Leonard whispering several of these songs in the listener’s ear. I’m rating OLD IDEAS 85%. For more info visit www.leonardcohen.com.